Eli5 Why does time feel so different when you’re an adult vs a kid?


I remember being a kid thinking waiting for an event that was 2 weeks away felt like 2 years away.

I remember school days feeling like it dragged on and on.

Now as a working adult, I can’t remember what day is is tomorrow or even today. My days bleeds in together in a good way.

As a kid, having less things to do was a factor. As an adult, you find there’s not enough hours in a day.

How do you remember experiencing time as a child?

In: Biology

Because the younger you are the larger % any given amount of time is of your life. So if you’re 10 1 month is 1/120th of your whole like. If you’re 30 a month is 1/360th.

A major portion of that is the fact that kids haven’t experienced as much time as adults. You take a 5 year old, and they only remember *maybe* four years of time, so going through nine whole months of school to get to the next grade, that’s like 20% of their life!

But when you’re 80, you’re looking ahead at a life you know is going to get shorter, and remember so much oflver the years, that the time just slips away.

It doesn’t help that kids tend to have more energy than the elderly, allowing them to physically do more in their time compared to an adult.

Oh this has been studied lots and they have scientific theories on how this works.

Science says it’s all about perception. For example you are 10, one year represents 10% of your entire life and your brain only has 10 years of life and memories stored so your perception of time is based on this.

Compare this to say a 50 year old where a year represents only 2% of your life and you have 50 years of life experience and memories stored in your brain so your perception of an hour at 50 is much quicker than when you are younger.

% of time. When you are 5, one week is a much bigger % of your life than when you are 50.

Also, understanding of time. I work in an elementary school, the kids have no understanding of time. I’ll hear things like “we’re moving tomorrow”. I’ll talk to the parent and they will be like “Yea, we’re moving in two years.” Or the opposite “I moved here yesterday!” And it’s like kid, I’ve known you for 4 years. You didn’t start in this school yesterday.

And knowledge of what needs to be done. Ok, we’re going on vacation in two weeks, but before that, I know I have 10 days of work, have to do X, Y, and Z. But, as a kid, it’s just “I have to wait for vacation”. They don’t know what “two weeks” means.

One of my most memorable moments when I first started teaching (because I was so new). Kindergarten kid was living with grandma. Mom told him that “starting in September, you’ll be living with Mommy and taking a different bus to Mommy’s house”. Next day, kid refused to get on the bus because “Mommy told me I have to take a different bus”. School called mom to pick him up, and she comes in screaming “I told you next year. If you ever do this again, I’m gonna beat your ass in front of all these teachers!!” (Pretty good clue why kid wasn’t living with Mom). Obviously this mom was crazy, but it is a lesson in realizing that kids don’t understand the calendar as much, and that we need to be careful how we explain things.

There’s a fantastic [video](https://youtu.be/aIx2N-viNwY) about this by Veritasium. Basically our internal clocks (essentially the speed at which neurons fire in the brain) run slower the older we get, and we perceive time differently. In the beginning of the video he starts a timer and asks people of varying ages to yell stop after a minute. The older people stopped it way later, because their perception of time was different. One guy stopped it at 1m40s.

All the answers here talk about % of time lifed so far, but that is generally not how our memory works. We don’t have a solid block of time we compare the current passage of time too. It might appear to make sense, but human memory isn’t a hard drive in which we notice that 1 year at 50 now only increases the volume of data by 2%, not doubling it, as it did in our second year.

What is more important is the things that are happening to you and the difference between your “now” perception of time and you retrospective memory of it. In your “now” perception, time can fly by if you’re having fun or are working on something that requires your attention, while it can seem to crawl if there is nothing to do. Ask yourself how time is going on a thursday afternoon in the office, with nothing left to do for the day but the clock still demanding 3 hours of your time be spent in a boring cubicle compared to how a party at which you’re having a blast can seem to last only two hours, when 8 have already elapsed.
But these same memories get handled differently in long term memory. Once that thursday has passed and nothing happened there, your brain (which is not a hard drive just recording every second 1:1) will not keep memories on things that were uneventful, if it was a week like any other you had for the past 10 years, there is no reason to have 500 copies of that week in your head, all perfectly memorized. That is while a day can feel like a drag when living through it, it can feel like weeks passed in an instant.

Thats why time as a kid felt so much longer. Things are constantly changing, you’re learning new concepts in school all the time, you’re aging into new things and aging out of others things, the media and products made for kids are evolving extremely fast and you’re generally not yet acustomed to many things that will become routine once you’re an adult.
I mean, just think about your own life, if the “% of your life” idea were true, why do especially eventful periods of you life seem so long in retrospective, even if there are shorter than longer stretches of calm periods, which seemed like they were over in the blink of an eye?

All these “because x time metric is a larger proportion of your life when you’re younger” answers are simplistic horseshit. They’re conflating perception and perspective.

If you get in to intense meditation, you can get to feel those moments of slowed time again.

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